Ethical and Legal issues
From: Building Expert Systems: Principles, Procedures and
Applications, E.M. Awad, West Pub. Co., 1996, ISBN 0-314-06626-8
Ethics deals with: moral vs immoral, legal vs illegal
As a software engineer or programmer, you are obliged to make
ethical decisions:
– nature of actions: are they fair, reasonable, conscionable?
– consequences of actions or inactions: who gains, who loses?
– consequences of actions on others: society issues
threats to ethics:
– telecommuncations, networks, Internet
– massive distributed databases
– ease of access to information
– view that stored information/knowledge are competitive
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Some ethics guidelines
William Allen (Boeing’s CEO for 14 years)
– Do not be afraid to admit that you don’t know.
– Be definite - tell it like it is.
– Try to promote honest feelings toward the company.
– Don’t talk too much... let others talk.
– Be considerate of your associates’ views.
– Above all, be human - keep your sense of humour and learn to
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ACM Code of Ethics (extracts)
General Moral Imperatives
– honour property rights including copyrights and patents
– respect the privacy of others
– honor confidentiality
Professional responsiblities
– give comprehensive evaluations of computer systems and
their impact, with emphasis on possible risks
– improve public understanding of computing and its
Organizational Leadership Imperatives
– acknowledge and support ethical uses of computing systems
– support policies that protect the dignity of users and others
affected by computing systems
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Ethics and Expert systems
approach system building using principles of integrity and ethics
don’t oversell expert systems
– be honest with weaknesses, possible problems
– be honest with impact caused by inevitable errors
“The zeal with which expert systems are built should be tempered
with the realization that they are based on human knowledge and
ideas, which are less than perfect.”
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Legal issues
Who owns knowledge?
– If expert is hired on a contract basis to make an expert system,
and perhaps receives royalties, s/he is more liable than if they
are an employee of the firm
– if company “purchases” expert’s knowledge, s/he may escape
future liability
What if an expert employee is unwilling to release knowledge
gained during years of employment?
– does the company have rights to that knowledge?
Scenario: an employee gains expertise via using an expert
system. Does the company have the exclusive rights to that
– no, unless the employee signed an intellectual property rights
agreement withthe company when hired
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Legal liability
Case: A doctor consults a medical expert system to diagnose a
patient. The patient is treated but soon dies due to misdiagnosis
and improper treatment.
Who is liable?
– knowledge engineer?
– expert?
– company who bought the system (hospital?)
– shell programmer?
– user (doctor)?
– the expert system software itself?
– all of the above?
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Expert System Liability
a) knowledge engineer: responsible for choosing expert; ensuring
system’s accuracy and reliability; knowledge is properly acquired
and represented
– KE is personally liable, unless an employee of the organization
b) domain expert: his or her knowledge is encapsulated in KB
– again, contract vs employee relationship affects liability
c) shell developer: bugs in inference, other utilities
– could be wide-ranging: lots of expert systems may be written!
d) user: user knowledge when inputting into the system; relying
on faulty diagnoses
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Expert System Liability
– off-the-shelf software
– mass-marketed
– custom-designed, but affects a lot of customers
– → proving negligence is unnecesary to hold developer liable
– → can have “express warranty” disclaimer to limit liability
– custom-designed software
– → must prove negligence
– → law of state applies
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Expert Systems and Liability
Knowledge engineering and computer programming is not yet
standardized or certified.
If/when it does, then KEs are subject to malpractice: negligence or
professional liability applied to developers for design defects in
systems tailored specifically for professional use.
May be an issue in the future, as KBS’s and programming
a user can be liable for failing to use an expert system when one
is available.
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Future AI systems
What if an expert system autonomously evolves and learns while
used in the field?
how can expert or KE be held liable?
System may grow in ways totally unexpected from initial
Can the software itself be held liable?
Stay tuned.
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Summary of Legal Issues
1. expert owns knowledge if no prior agreement established (eg. preemployment contract).
2. KE is subject to personal liability if problems arise with system. If
KE is an employee, then employer is liable.
3. If expert system is a product, no proof of negligence is necessary.
A disclaimer of warranties can be used. Loss to developer is “a
cost of doing business”.
4. If expert system is a service, then contract law of state applies.
5. US courts are reluctant towards “exclude warranty disclaimers”.
6. Cases involving warranties require user show who is at fault and
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Ethical and Legal issues